Monday, 15 May 2017 12:08

The Mother’s Day gift we should have been able to give

For me, Mother’s Day is one of the best days of the year. Putting its commercialisation aside, I love that on this one day people all across the country are thinking of their mums and, if they’re lucky enough to still have them around, thanking them for everything they have done.

Our mothers were born into a world much different to our own. In her lifetime, my mother has seen women go from being a rarity in the workplace to being a staple of the workforce.

While we have made progress towards gender equality, the daily experience of women and the data reveal we have a long way to go. For gender equality to be real, women would be equally safe as men in their homes and on our streets. Women would not be harassed and discriminated against in the workplace because of their gender. Our employment and political structures and systems would change in recognition that they do not create level playing fields for men and women. And women would be paid equally for work of the same value, too. Does that really sound so radical? Hopefully not, but something radical needs to happen for us to get there.

Of all the opportunity gaps between women and men, the economic gender gap is of particular concern. The World Economic Forum found in their Global Gender Gap Report last year that under business as usual the economic gender gap will not close until 2186.

That’s 169 years away.

Women of today cannot afford to wait for gender equality and economic freedom. Governments should be using every lever they have to close the economic gender gap.

In this Iceland is leading the way. A bill requiring private businesses and government agencies with 25 or more employees to prove they offer equal pay to employees or face fines has the support of Iceland’s centre-right coalition government and its opposition. Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Equality has said the plan’s benefits are ‘obvious’. It’s no wonder Iceland ranks number one on the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index.

However, here in Australia some of our political leaders actively attack ideas on how governments can work to close the economic gender gap.

Recently former Prime Minister and Minister for Women Tony Abbott told Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to ‘pull her head in’ for floating a strategy on how the Commonwealth Government could improve the participation of women in the workforce and thus help tackle the economic gender gap. The proposed measure would see the government ask organisations it contracts to demonstrate efforts to improve gender balance, with an ultimate goal of reaching a 40:40:20 gender balance: 40 percent men, 40 percent women and 20 percent unspecified for flexibility. This is hardly ‘anti-men’.

An encouraging development is the Victorian Government’s most recent Budget, which included a $1.9 billion investment to tackle family violence. Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change is a well-funded and comprehensive package that includes multiple interventions to change negative attitudes towards women, starting from an early age, which contribute to the economic gender gap.

Economic freedom for women means older women will be less likely to face poverty and homelessness in their retirement because they no longer retire with almost half as much superannuation as men. It means different types of work such as caring work, which traditionally attract more women, is better valued. It means women do not have to stay in abusive and violent relationships because they are financially controlled and trapped.

Global wealth is increasingly being shared amongst a smaller and smaller group of men. Rising economic inequality could be particularly bad for women. The International Monetary Fund has demonstrated that countries with higher income inequality also tend to have higher gender inequality.

This Mother’s Day, we weren’t able to give our mothers immediate economic freedom, but we are able to fight to accelerate the progress. We can ensure that our daughters aren’t faced with economic insecurity in their retirement by closing the economic gender gap in our lifetimes, not in 169 years. To achieve this, we need governments and oppositions alike to get on board, just like in Iceland.

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Kristen Hilton is the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner.

If you feel you have experienced discrimination, you can get in touch with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission on 1300 292 153 or at www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au.

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